Friday, March 11, 2011

Baby Science: Days 4 and 5

In our last "Mommy Science" post, we discussed the science behind Jen B’s early postpartum experiences at home. As promised, now we’ll take a closer look at her daughter Charlotte’s development and experiences during those early days.

As Charlotte entered her 4th day of life, she was still struggling to maintain an alert state for more than a few minutes. Her situation is a common one, especially for a baby born by c-section. Sleepy babies can be particularly challenging for new parents if they require a lot of work to wake up. Sometimes babies are sleepy because of exposure to medications, sometimes because their bodies are still not able to effectively move from one state to another. Other babies are challenging to wake because they are spending so much energy trying to tune out the world when they are trying to rest and recover from birth. While parents with sleepy babies may enjoy the extra shut-eye, sleeping too long or failing wake up enough to feed effectively, can result in babies' losing weight, becoming dehydrated, or even jaundiced. It is important to follow your health care providers' guidelines about how often to feed your baby and how best to wake your baby to feed.
Even when they are awake, newborns may have some trouble getting feedings started. Learning to latch and coordinating breathing and sucking are sometimes tricky even when all the reflexes and instincts are in place. Fortunately, babies are born with innate abilities to learn quickly and after the first few days, nearly all babies are feeding champs. If not, a trip to the doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant can help get things back on track. The very best way to make sure that your baby improves in his ability to feed is to practice every time you see your baby use hunger cues.  

Some of you will be surprised about how much your baby moves during those first few days. He may twitch and flail his arms and legs, especially when you put him down on his back. He may even move around quite a bit when he's sleeping. Newborns have little control over their muscles and some (but not all) will move around so much that they startle themselves. Swaddling can be useful for newborns to minimize movement and keep your baby a bit more relaxed until he gets more control over his body (within the first few weeks).

One last thing, newborns are tenacious in their desire and ability to connect with and learn from the world around them. It may not be obvious, but each time your newborn looks at your face, he is working hard to learn and duplicate what he sees. When you smile or move your lips to speak to him, his brain is making connections that will someday let him smile back at you. At first, your newborn won't be able to look at you for very long but when he does, you will notice that looking at you calms him. In fact, he will find your face to be one of the most wondrous things in his brand new world.

Next time: A New Baby Quiz! 

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